Playing The Long Game: Outdoor Photography With Telezooms

Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review

The Sony Alpha A99 is the premium full frame digital SLR from Sony with Sony's translucent mirror technology offering high speed auto focus and shooting. Find out how it performs in our review.

| Sony Alpha A99 in Digital SLRs

Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review: Sony Alpha Slt A99v (14)

The Sony Alpha A99 is Sony's premium full frame Digital SLR and the long awaited update to the Sony Alpha A900 and A850, introducing the SLT (Sony Translucent) technology to full frame, and could very well mark the end of optical viewfinders in Sony Digital SLRs. The Sony Alpha A99 features a 24.3 megapixel full frame CMOS sensor, 6fps continuous shooting, full HD video with continuous AF, and an impressive 2.359million dot OLED electronic viewfinder.

Sony Alpha A99 Features

Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review: Sony Alpha Slt A99v (11)

The Sony Alpha A99 features a new 24.3 megapixel full frame CMOS sensor, with new optical low-pass filter, and a shutter rated for 200,000 shots. The sensor has been designed for improved noise performance thanks to better sensitivity to light at the pixel level.

The camera offers 6fps continuous shooting at full resolution as well as a 10fps continuous shooting mode at a cropped resolution. The body is weathersealed and has a magnesium alloy structure internally. The optional battery grip also features the same level of weather sealing.

Movie recording has been developed with Sony's broadcasting team, and provides full HD 60p recording, with full time continuous AF. P/A/S/M manual movie modes have been upgraded. Sound can be recorded by the camera, or using the microphone socket. Audio level display and rec level control is provided, as well as a silent multi controller on the front of the camera. Full HD movie output via HDMI, with shooting info on/off, (simultaneous full HD to screen and other screen), as well as a headphone socket is provided.

The camera has built in GPS, a high resolution OLED Electronic ViewFinder (EVF) with 2.359 million dots, and the screen on the back is a high resolution VGA equivalent 3 inch tilting and swivelling screen to let you take photos and videos from awkward angles.

Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review: Sony Alpha Slt A99v (18)

Key Features

  • 24.3 megapixel Full frame CMOS sensor
  • Sony A / Alpha lens mount
  • Built in SteadyShot Image Sensor
  • 3 inch 1,228,800 dots (VGA equivalent, WhiteMagic)
  • OLED EVF: 2,359,296 dots
  • 6fps continuous shooting, 10fps in telezoom mode
  • 19-point AF with 11 cross sensors, with 102-point focal plane phase detection AF sensor
  • Weatherproof magnesium alloy body
  • Full HD video recording, mic, headphone sockets
  • Dual memory card slots, slot 1: MS/SD, slot 2: SD
  • ISO: 50 - 25600
  • GPS built in

Sony Alpha A99 Handling

Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review: Sony Alpha Slt A99v (1)
Handling - The A99 has a deep hand grip and may be more suited to someone with larger hands - it also features a rubber grip that goes the whole way around the camera from the back thumb grip to the front. With the optional vertical hand grip the camera becomes much larger again and thanks to the magnesium alloy weather sealed body, it feels very well made and very strong. The Sony Alpha A99 without the grip feels extremely comfortable to hold even with one hand, although not recommended, it is a sign that the design and ergonomics are well thought out. The mode dial is released with a middle button, and features 3 custom memory recall positions.

Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review: Sony Alpha Slt A99v (7)

A new flash hot-shoe has been added to the Sony A99, along with the Sony NEX-6 and Sony RX1, which makes it much easier to add standard ISO accessories to the camera. The tilting, swivelling screen is extremely versatile letting you point it forwards either above the camera or below, as well as giving better viewing when holding the camera above or below you. The front focus control button can be used to set different options, and the scroll wheel around the button makes switching between the options quick and easy.

Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review: Sony A99 Rear Display Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review: Sony A99 Setting Af Range
Sony A99 Rear Display Sony A99 Setting AF Range

Another new feature of the Sony Alpha A99 is the ability to set the AF range for the lens, for example if there isn't a focus limiting switch on the lens, or you want to be more precise about where you want the camera to focus, so the lens doesn't hunt for focus and therefore focus can be even quicker.

Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review: Sony Alpha Slt A99v (5)

Menus – The menu system is well laid out with the menus starting with photo options and then spread over a number of pages are the playback, setup and more advanced options. With the A99 having a number of external controls and buttons you rarely need to access the menus, as the option is displayed on the LCD while changing it. Using the function button it's also possible to get access to most controls on the rear screen.

Battery life - Battery life is rated at 410 shots according to Sony / CIPA test results, we were able to take 400 shots with 42% battery life remaining. As the camera uses an Info-Lithium battery, the remaining battery life is shown on the camera as a percentage.

Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review: Sony Alpha Slt A99v (4)

Speed - We took a number of shots to test the camera's responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.

  Sony Alpha A99 Sony RX100
Shutter Response 0.05 0.0
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response 0.15* 0.3
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response N/A 0.3
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo 1.0 2.2
Shot to Shot without Flash 0.7 0.9
Shot to Shot with Flash N/A 2.1
Continuous Shooting
(shots before slow down)
6fps (11 shots) 7fps (speed priority mode, 15 shots)
Continuous Shooting - Flash N/A 1.6s
Continuous Shooting - RAW 6fps (11 shots) 4fps (13 shots)

Shutter response is excellent, and the camera has quick shot to shot times. 10fps shooting mode is cropped from the centre and at a reduced resolution of 4.6 megapixels, and takes 16 shots before slowing down. * Focus was very quick, except when the 100mm macro lens was hunting for focus, and using the AF range setting it was possible to set the focus range to the correct distance and avoid the macro lens from hunting, giving excellent focus speeds.

Sony Alpha A99 Performance

Additional sample photos and product shots are available in the Equipment Database, where you can add your own review, photos and product ratings.

Sony Alpha A99 Sample Photos

Sample Photos - Images shot with the camera come out with bright saturated colour, and levels of detail are good, with particularly saturated reds and blues. Our studio portrait was shot using manual white balance.

Sony Alpha A99 Lens test images

Lens Performance - Dynamic range is excellent with reliable exposure in a variety of shooting situations. Some purple fringing is visible in the shot of the trees, although this was not a concern in other shots. Focusing was very reliable and the 100mm Macro lens gives excellent macro performance, as would be expected.

Sony Alpha A99 ISO test images

ISO Noise Performance - Noise is excellent at ISO50, ISO100, ISO200 and ISO400 with very good detail. Noise appears slightly at ISO800 when viewing images at full size, although it's not very easily noticed until ISO1600. At ISO3200 noise increases again and this grain is easier to see, with a slight loss of detail. At ISO6400 noise increases again and detail drops slightly. At ISO12800 there is a loss of colour saturation as noise increases again, and the camera appears to apply strong chroma noise reduction. At ISO25600 noise it at it's worst and image quality suffers, although it's worth noting that these images could still provide useful when resized. ISO Noise reduction settings: Long Exposure NR (On), High ISO NR (Low, options: Off, Low, Normal).

Sony Alpha A99 White-balance test images

White Balance Performance - Auto White Balance (AWB) performs well under tungsten lighting, giving a slightly warm result, with the tungsten preset giving a more accurate result. AWB performs very well under fluorescent lighting, with each fluorescent preset giving a different colour cast.

Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review: Sony A99 Pano DSC00187 | 1/125 sec | f/4.5 | 100.0 mm | ISO 100
1/125 sec | f/4.5 | 100.0 mm | ISO 100  - Panoramic mode automatically stitches the photos together as you pan the camera from one side to another.

Sony Alpha A99 Digital filters

Digital Filters - Creative effects shown above - unfortunately it's not possible to record RAW original images when using these effects. There are a variety of colour options and creative effects including HDR painting and Rich Tone Monochrome - both of these take 3 photos and merge them together for greater dynamic range. The colour options let you customise contrast, saturation and sharpness.

Video - Video options include P/A/S/M shooting, AVCHD, MP4, Steadyshot On/Off, AF tracking, Wind noise reduction, and creative styles as well as picture effects can be applied. Max ISO for video is ISO6400. Continuous AF during videos is extremely quick as this video shows.

Value For Money

The Sony Alpha A99 is available for £2299 body only which makes it reasonable value for money, although since its introduction, the Nikon D600 (23.4mp, 5.5fps, £1379) and Canon EOS 6D (20.2mp, GPS, Wi-Fi, 4.5fps, £1799) offer similar levels of performance for noticeably less, and of the following cameras, the Canon EOS 6D and Canon EOS 5D Mark III (22.3mp, 6fps, £2299) can be used at higher ISO settings, although the 6D is the only one of these that doesn't feature a headphone socket. Alternatively the Nikon D800/D800E, offers the highest resolution at 36.3mp, 4fps, and is available for £1849.

Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review: Nikon D600 Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review: Nikon D800 Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review: Canon EOS 5D MKIII
Nikon D600 Nikon D800 Canon 5D Mark III
£1379 £1849 £2299

You'll also need to buy a memory card and a case or bag to keep your camera safe and protected - have a look at our complete guide to camera bags.

Sony Alpha A99 Verdict

The Sony Alpha A99 is literally packed with features with built in image stabilisation, GPS, high speed shooting, HDR modes, a high resolution OLED EVF, a tilting / swivelling 3 inch screen (unique in full frame DSLRs), electronic level, and weather sealed body to name just some of the features.

The camera provides good handling, with rapid speed and a relatively easy to use menu system and controls. A large number of external buttons and dials aid quick setting changes, and the introduction of a more standard flash socket is an improvement over the previous Sony flash hot-shoe. With a Sony Info-lithium battery you get excellent information about how long you have left to shoot as well.

Image quality is particularly pleasing with excellent noise performance and focus performance is excellent thanks to the cameras SLT technology, allowing fast focusing for continuous shooting as well as video recording. Another unique feature is AF range control which could be particularly useful for sports or wildlife photographers where the subject is a set distance. Colour, detail, and dynamic range are all excellent with the camera producing great photos straight from the camera.

The Sony Alpha A99 has a number of unique features that help it stand out amongst other full frame Digital SLRs, and importantly delivers some impressive benefits thanks to Sony's use of "Translucent Mirror" technology, namely quicker focus performance for photos and video, as well as high speed live view performance, and a high resolution OLED electronic viewfinder. For stills photography you may want to save some money and look at some of the other full frame cameras, but if you take high speed photography or are interested in video recording then the Sony Alpha A99 certainly stands out - it also takes some excellent photos.

  Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Digital SLR Review:
  The Sony Alpha A99 offers excellent image quality and impressive speed.

Sony Alpha A99 Pros

Excellent noise performance
Great image quality and excellent colour
AF range control
Lens AF fine tuning
Large strap
More standard ISO Flash than previous models
Info-Lithium Battery
Built in GPS
OLED viewfinder looks excellent
Continuous AF in videos
Focus Peaking
Electronic level

Sony Alpha A99 Cons

Doesn't automatically switch between memory card slots
Price compared to competition
Loud shutter sound


Sony Alpha A99 Specifications

Effective Magnification1x
Image Sensor
Pixels24.3Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W)6000
Pixels (H)4000
Sensor TypeExmor CMOS
Sensor Size35mm
Sensor Size (width)35.8mm
Sensor Size (height)23.9mm
Aspect Ratio
  • 3:2
  • 16:9
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor3in
Screen resolution1,228,800 dots
Touch ScreenNo
Focusing modes
  • Autofocus
  • Spot
  • Manual
  • Face Detection
  • AF Tracking
  • Multi
  • Centre
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/8000sec
Shutter speeds longest30sec
Bulb modeYes
Exp modes
  • Program
  • Aperture-Priority
  • Shutter-Priority
  • Manual
  • Scene modes
  • A
  • Centre-weighted - Average
  • Multi Pattern
  • Spot
ISO sensitivity50 - 25600
White balance
  • Auto
  • Outdoors/Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Incandescent
  • Fluorescent
  • Shade
  • Manual
  • Flash
  • Bracket
Exposure Comp+/-5
MagnificationNo Data
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting6fps
Movie modeYes
Video Resolution
  • 1920x1080 FullHD
  • 1280x720 HD 720p
  • 640x480 VGA
  • 1440x1080
Video FPS30,25fps
Stereo SoundYes
Optical Zoom with VideoYes
Other Features
Image StabilisationYes
Card Type
  • SD
  • SDHC
  • SDXC
  • Memory Stick (Sony)
File Type
  • RAW
  • JPG
  • RAW + JPG
Power Source
Battery TypeRechargeable battery pack NP-FM500H
Battery Life (CIPA rating)410shots
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data

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Photographs taken using the Sony Alpha A99

FEED ME NOW!Longtailed TitSouthern white-faced owlHeading home.Lola.Madam in Mono.Trollius Golden QueenNasturtium.Turquoise Fronted Amazon.Burrowing Owl.Mottled Owl.What's that?Erigeron.Glowing.I'm watching you.

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josa Avatar
josa 11 25 Czech Republic
13 Dec 2012 7:19PM
Great camera. Too big, heavy and expensive for me. Waiting for FF compact....
stupot Avatar
stupot 11 1 United Kingdom
14 Dec 2012 9:56AM
Excellent Camera, easy to get to grips with. Love it.Grin
JJGEE Avatar
JJGEE 18 8.1k 18 England
14 Dec 2012 11:44AM

Quote:Waiting for FF compact

Does not the DSC - RX1 qualify as a compact ?
josa Avatar
josa 11 25 Czech Republic
14 Dec 2012 8:51PM
@JJGEE- Yes, of course, but the price is ridiculous, I mean something for 1500$..I am sure sooner or later we'll get it. Later like 5 years from now on...
aardvark7 Avatar
aardvark7 16 1
19 Dec 2012 12:03PM
This is a fabulous camera and exceeds the A900 in almost every respect. I use them professionally and I'm delighted.

However I do have to wonder at the experience of the reviewer if he found the shutter loud (listed in 'Cons')!!???!!!! Clearly, he has never handled any other DSLR because this is about the quietest you will get.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
19 Dec 2012 4:12PM
A bit of a Curate's Egg of a camera.

I think that Sony have put on too many "consumer" features. Strip them off to make it a more professional tool, like the Alpha 900. But then, havign them adds next to nothing to the price, and one doesn't have to use them.

I imagine the price will drop, as that of the D800 has. When a camera hits the shelves, it tends to be priced up.

Will I get one? No: it doesn't outperform my Alpha 900 enough in ways that I value (though others may, and highly). It is priced above my current means (a reflection of my personal circumstances, not the price in itself). And finally, why does it not have a 36mp sensor, as Sony make for Nikon, I believe?

I am sure that the next Alpha will rock my world: for now, the 900 continues to rule, and (if cosmetics matter) it looks the part, in a way that smoothie-rounded techie-toys don't.

But then, I still rate my Contax RTS as simply the best camera I own, so you may want to ignore every word I've written...
suelen Avatar
suelen 13 United Kingdom
19 Dec 2012 11:26PM
I love my Sony 99. Had the 55 and 77 too and love all of them
AlanWillis Avatar
AlanWillis 14 67 England
20 Dec 2012 1:07PM
Many months ago when Sony told me the new SLT Full Frame was to be 24mp my heart sunk. After using it for most days during the last two months, my fear was totally unfounded. Sony has kept the best for their A99, colour and detail are second to none, and Sony will use a higher pixel count when perfection is possible. As a kingfisher photographer my SLT A99 has it all. To realize full potential with the camera I am updating my 300G 2.8 to the mk2. This will arrive in a couple of days, and will support the 121 focal points, and focus 4 times faster. My 28-75 SAM 2.8 lens works well, as does the 70-400G.The 70-200G mk2 is in the pipe line from Sony. Although a future firmware update will support the mk1. How can Sony’s pursuit of perfection continue? The A99 in my opinion is faultless.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
20 Dec 2012 5:44PM
It's really interesting to see what people who have actually used a 99 have to say. Clearly, it hits the spot for many.

And, if I didn't have a 900, and did have cash in hand today, I'm sure I'd go for one. But as I have and I don't, and the 900 resolved most of the issues that had plagued previous cameras, as well as delivering results that make me and my subjects very happy, I will still stick, for now.

Better colour would be good (though I often shoot in mono), as would higher resolution. Less high-ISO noise? Not so sure: I still use fast film in active developer to get lots of grain from film, sometimes, and I suspect that the 99 would be a severe disappointment in that way, by being too good...
AlanWillis Avatar
AlanWillis 14 67 England
21 Dec 2012 2:42PM

Quote: this is about the quietest you will get.

The shutter is quiet because the mirror does not jump up and down.

JohnAR Avatar
JohnAR 13
24 Dec 2012 5:12PM
why would I buy this rather than an EOS 5D mkIII assuming I had no affiliation to either, which I haven't.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
24 Dec 2012 5:34PM
Replying to John AR...

You might like the availability of Zeiss lenses, in certain focal lengths. (I have used Zeiss glass since 1976, and I know my 1977 85mm Planar is the sharpest 85mm I have used, including a Canon and a Minolta. It is rather good...)

You might decide that body-integral antishake (which means it's there with EVERY lens) is useful for ultra low light work, or specialist applications.

You may want a viewfinder that shows you the result of exposure, colour balance, and picture style (e.g. see a B/W image in the viewfinder when recording a B/W image).

And you might want the lack of mirror noise/shake that everything with a non-fixed mirror has.

Finally, you might be the sort of contrary person who wants to back soemthing a bit left-field, rather than buying what the majority have. As some buy a Subaru car rather than a VW or a Ford.

There may be other specifics that are only apparent to those who have used the camera, and I hope that they will add soemthing - Sydney2 above speaks highly of the colour, for instance.

I admit to bias, as I have an Alpha 99 and several lenses, and have still got legacy Minolta bodies and glass (which work perfectly well on Alphas, so far). There is less continuity in Canon lenses - or, perhaps, more accurately, in the use of third-party EOS-fit lenses on digital EOS bodies.
JohnAR Avatar
JohnAR 13
24 Dec 2012 7:55PM
Your points are valid and appreciated.
Merely for the sake of discussion I would say that, I do like in-body shake reduction, (I owned an A300), however ultimate sharpness is not my greatest concern, as I believe you can reach a point beyond which greater resolution is of little use. I now use a D7000 but I haven't done any macro photography, I've never felt the need for a Zeiss lens. Also, although I respect Subaru, (less of them here in the UK) there is usually a good sound reason behind products, be they cars or cameras, becoming the brand leaders, and I have a suspicion that, no disrespect intended, some of those choosing 'left field' often do so in order just to be able to say so....

All that said, I have absolutely no doubt that I would be very happy with an A99, the reviews are very encouraging.
Regards to all, and Happy Christmas (4hrs 5mins to go here)
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
24 Dec 2012 8:34PM
Same here...

On quality, I'd simply say that having enough that you KNOW that any problems are your technique is always good. In digital, I really enjoy having files that do not need sharpening.

And (having just traded in my second Subaru for a far-more-economical Fabia), I'd comment that there's a reason that Subaru have lifted the World Rally Championship, and VW haven't. They don't feel as solid, but you think them round corners, rather than having to steer them. (Mine were not turbocharged: you needed bends and no BMW in front to appreciate just how lovely they were!)

And, absolutely, I go for the "road less travelled" in many things. It's often more interesting...

Canon cameras deliver a reliable standard product. That's why they're successful. But that does not mean that other brands (and currently, particularly Nikon, using Sony sensors, and Sony) are challenging their market dominance.

You'd not, I am sure, be disappointed with a 5D III, either. And certainly not with a D800, which seems to have a lead on both, in quality and (amazingly) price...

Happy Christmas (with 3h 26m to go as I finish...)
stormband1 Avatar
25 Dec 2012 4:10AM
One of the things that is making me have a very Happy Christmas is that I trusted what I saw rather than being intimidated to move away from the trusted Canon and Nikon brands. I did buy the SONY A99.
I had a Canon Mark II with L lenses. I had always been a Canon guy and still appreciate the brand, however after trying a Sony A65 for a few months the dynamic range that I was able to get, among other things, made me put the Mark II on the shelf. Didn't expect that to happen but it sure did. I do a lot of low light shooting and often am in extremely high contrast situations. The results I was getting on a consistent basis were just plain better that with any other gear I have used over the years. I still wanted full frame so when the A99 came out I was looking forward to see what it could do.
I was impressed enough to trade out all of my Canon equipment to get the A99. I couldn't be more pleased with the decision. The feature set including the software algorithms are many steps ahead of other full frame cameras.
If you are a brand fan than you aren't likely to look objectively at what SONY has produced at this time but if you are willing to do some "blind testing in real world settings"I think you will find the pros VS cons of the A99 will tip strongly toward the A99.
Hope user experience helps.
aardvark7 Avatar
aardvark7 16 1
6 Jan 2013 8:43PM
I mentioned it in your forums, but thought it worth repeating here: the very last issue with the A99 is a 'loud' shutter. I can only assume that you had a faulty example as both of mine are whisper quiet.
AlanWillis Avatar
AlanWillis 14 67 England
24 Jan 2013 10:34PM

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